[The University of Leicester]

Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy:

Introduction


And there ys peynted wythunne and over,

The dedly synnes sueyn

There was peynted wyth thyngys sere

That men mygt mewse on many a yere’

Le Bone Florence of Rome
(a Middle English Romance of c.1475-1500)

(Heffernan (1976), 63)

morgan and arthur

Morgan le Fey shows King Arthur wall paintings of Lancelot

(F.W.Fairholt, ‘Mural Painting as a domestic decoration during the Middle Ages’, JBAA, IV (1849), 99)

Wall paintings of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy were popular in Britain from the fourteenth century to the Reformation. As the extract above suggests, they were not simply decoration but were intended to provide material for contemplation. These paintings were among a group of ‘didactic’ or ‘morality’ images prominent in British wall painting in the later Middle Ages. Other contemporary ‘morality’ subjects included the Seven Sacraments and the Warnings to Gossips, Swearers and Sabbath Breakers.

The lists of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy had different origins and were not exact opposites (see Frequently Asked Questions and Imperfect Parallels). However, they were often depicted together or in the same scheme and this is the rationale for this project. The database covers the churches which appear to have contained both types of image. In addition there are about thirty further churches where only the Sins were shown and over twenty with only the Works; given the intrinsic vulnerability of wall paintings, some of these churches may originally also have had paintings of both subjects. Most of these paintings are in England, with two examples in Wales. Nearly all are in parish churches.

Some wall paintings survive in relatively good condition, but others are fragmentary. Some lost paintings were carefully drawn and recorded before being covered over or destroyed, in other cases a few brief lines are the only record. Several of the paintings in the database have deteriorated since they were first uncovered, sometimes as the result of waxy coatings applied by earlier restorers. For this reason, the Bibliography aims to provide a comprehensive list of antiquarian sources, as well as more recent references.

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Last updated: 20/12/2001
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